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Playful Suffering

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The legacy began on a clear night about thirty to forty-odd years ago. Four uniformed ANBU members were fighting a squad of S-ranked missing-nin. Unfortunately, the fight had been going on far too long already and both parties were beginning to feel the strain of the harsh blow exchange.

It didn’t help that Gekkou Tsubaki also known as ANBU Tonbo came down with a cold three days prior. His rattling cough rang through the battlefield and some of the missing-nin had been taunting him for it. Tsubaki refrained from answering their mocking notions and swung his family heirloom, a dark katana, swiftly and gracefully. He managed to decapitate one of the nine remaining men without his body acting up.

Unluckily, as time progressed, Tsubaki’s squad decimated to one and a half because Uni was still breathing at least. The others had been killed by the three remaining missing-nin who now focused on him. Between coughing and looking out for any attacks directed at him, Tsubaki didn’t notice the attack from behind until it was too late. A fuma shuriken hit him in his lower back and with a grunt, the ANBU fell face first on the earth. Small pebbles dug harshly into his forehead.

“Tsk, fucking Konoha shinobi. That one was tough. You sure he’s dead?” one of the enemy men asked another one.

“Would be a wonder if he’s still alive.” Tsubaki held his breath and lay still. He knew he had to either retreat or wait for an impossible opening to strike. The missing-nin asked in a disbelieving voice: “Did’ya hear his fucking cough? This one’s a goner, I tell ya. Sounded like a chronic disease, I tell ya.”

“Good, you’re the medic – you should know it.”

“Let’s head back.”

Foolishly, they then turned their backs facing Tsubaki and with a deadly motion, he sprung up and cleaved through all three heads that were conveniently lined up in a row. Then he gritted his teeth when he pulled out the large shuriken which was still embedded in his body.

The next actions were near automatic – sealing the prey, finally giving first aid to Uni (and the Umino family thanked him for it because if it weren’t for his deft and trained fingers, Umino Kaisei would have grown up without father) and then also sealed his own fallen team mates into scrolls.

He headed back to Konoha that night, only living because the enemy had thought his cough was chronic and weakening.
It shouldn’t have made much of a difference. Something like this could happen to anybody.

It shouldn’t have but it did.

Tsubaki’s story became a Gekkou family secret – one of their most shared children’s tales within the family (they were too few to count as a true clan) – but nonetheless remained just that. A family secret nobody besides the Gekkou knew about. Not even Uni, who had been unconscious by then, could recall the ordeal.

Tsubaki’s children, a girl and a boy, were of course really inspired by their father’s shinobi cunningness and decided, at the young age of nine, to act just like their idol.
One would think they grew tired of periodically coughing like they were about to keel over but as time went by and everybody was getting accustomed to the disease that seemingly came with the last generation (Tsubaki’s wife was a foreigner. Maybe they thought she’d brought it with her.), the two children became adults.

And they just never stopped coughing.

It saved them a handful of times and because of the vitality they possessed (the actual trait of their mother), they could easily continue the act without truly causing harm to their lungs.

The boy, now a man, married a beautiful blonde haired civilian who gave birth to three incredibly healthy babies. A couple of years later, his sister settled down as well. She gave birth to a single son she called Hayate.

All the children of the Gekkou family learned how to fake the infamous cough and three out of four used it to the fullest.

Gekkou Hayate was born with clan symbols underneath his eyes that looked like heavy eye bags. His parents often teased him for it because it only added to the whole coughing shtick.
The boy was peaceful and oftentimes refused to fight people using his cough as an excuse which made it even more believable.

Then he met Uzuki Yuugao and he fell in love.

“The cough is an act.” he had told her once it was sure that he wanted to spend his life with her.

“An act?” she had asked and grinned foxily as she usually did, “Damn, you made even Ibiki wince with it and he’s supposed to be the most resistant of us. Why, though?”

“Ah... family secret.” he replied sheepishly.

She didn’t bring it up or ask questions as the Uzuki clan had a fair share of secrets as well.

°°°

Gekkou Hayate looks dead. The tokubetsu jonin lies still on the cold floor and slowly bleeds from his chest wound. He has long since ceased coughing and his chest doesn’t move.
He is dead.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” Kabuto asks, adjusting his glasses that are perched on the bridge of his nose.

Baki scoffs in disbelief and answers: “I’m a jonin. I know how to tell if a person’s dead or not. Besides, he can’t control his chronic cough. If he’d have been alive, he’d have given himself away with it. Let the others find him here.”

“Sure, Baki-san.”

With one last glance at Hayate’s body, Kabuto and Baki vanish into the night.

Hayate waits around ten minutes before he’s sure that nobody’s around and heads to the Hokage tower, clutching the gash on his stomach.

He can’t believe the famed Tsubaki Cough saved his life. What the hell. Aren’t ninja supposed to be more careful? Shaking his head, a cheeky teeth-gritted grin splits his mouth.

Hayate stumbles into the Hokage’s study, smearing blood all over the window frame and floor.

“Suna and Oto are planning an invasion” he says as soon as the Third acknowledges him.
And everything changes for the better.